Success in the long Battle for Justice
Eventually, Walter Panknin’s persistence paid off. Acting on a friend’s advice, he directed his request for justice to the governing president of the West German State of North Rhine Westphalia. In his 3-page letter, he logically and respectfully outlined his family’s dire financial situation. Reading his correspondence, I was surprised that he could directly address by letter the state president. When people wish to present their concerns to the upper authorities, they have to use the proper channels set up for them. Apparently, Papa’s letter went to the right place and got the ball rolling. However, another five years passed within the notoriously slow mill of the German bureaucracy. After many more letters, documents, and court hearings, all his key requests were finally granted. In 1962, promoted to the rank of a major in retirement, he could collect the pension payments that he was entitled to. He had his refugee status fully recognized and could move into a modest but modern apartment in the City of Velbert near Essen.
We should not think that Papa’s struggle was an isolated case. In a previous publication, telling the story of my Mother’s family, I reported that my uncle Lieutenant-General Gerhard Kegler was sentenced to death by a Nazi military tribunal for disobeying Himmler’s order to defend an eastern town and for leading his poorly equipped and exhausted division to the relative safety of the eastern front. Shortly before the execution was to take place, the death sentence was put on hold. My uncle was degraded to the rank of a private and sent to fight the Soviets near Frankfurt, Oder. Severely wounded, he was shipped by train to a military hospital in Schleswig-Holstein, where the surgeons amputated his left arm to save his life from a virulent infection. As a POW, he survived the war and was reunited with his wife and family in 1947. But when he applied for a pension, the authorities, under the influence of old Nazi lawyers, tried to reject his application because he had been demoted to the rank of a common soldier. There was such a public outcry over this form of injustice made public in all major newspapers that the president of the German Republic stepped in and exonerated my uncle and granted him the full pension as required by law.